The Social Web: Defining the Undefinable

Over the past few months I’ve been listening to many colleagues, peers, and researchers debate the value of in work, learning and play … and in this discuss what they “mean” by or social technologies and what is or isn’t a social technology. This exercise has a danger of getting caught up with trying to put things into boxes and missing the richness of what is happening in real-time around us – with, through and about the . The dynamic interactions, the practices and discourse in our culture that is so important to reflect on.

However, I do agree with many that it is important to have some insight and shared meaning as to what we mean by X or Y. But imagine if we sat down and debated what is knowledge? or What it is not? or What is communication? and What is not communication? I am sure there were once debates as to “What is the printing press and what is not the printing press!” or perhaps not given the differential in both functional and network complexity we are faced with in technological contexts emerging today (I’m hoping my good friend and mentor Dave Harrison has some thoughts on this historical context). As an academic I am always interested in these debates, but I also see that they can also constrain our collaborative practices.

We are all doing our best to learn from each other across organisations, industries and countries, the wonderful things people are doing, to help us all improve in how we communicate, engage and collaborate … be that face to face or through digital social technologies. We all have a shared interest in the role and impact digital social technologies are having on us and around us (professionally-personally), so I thought I’d offer something to the discussions to see if this offers some food for thought as to the debate about … defining social media, social technologies or an approach I’m increasingly adopting in my work with organisations … “Communicating with, through and about The Social Web”.

In 2012 I was asked to provide a number of entries for the Encyclopedia of Management forthcoming edition about digital and social technologies in business, communications and marketing. One of these was an entry about social media and marketing. I called this article Social Web Marketing. To discuss this, I had to define it and in this I reflected on what is the social web, how does it fit with social technologies and the mass use of the term social media in business and wider society … In its crafting I considered it from a number of ways – how does a user see it, how does a business see it,  and how do technology providers see it. Often, there is much divergence in our thinking and the language we use, posing both challenges and opportunities for cross-fertilisation.

A few notes …

  • In this encyclopaedia article, I don’t talk about “internal” and “external” … as for those that read my blog post on “Social Ways of Working in Higher Education” … I strongly believe this dominant discourse around organisational communications is fundamentally changing.
  • You may also note one consistency across all these terms is the use of the word “social” … something perhaps more suited for another blog post, but something perhaps more important to reflect on … What do we mean by “being social?”

With permissions from Wiley, please see a brief extract of the definitions from the article below, I welcome comments and thoughts.

I share it not as a way forward … but for discussion about how difficult defining something so complex, complicated and fluid can be … and in this perhaps there is a need for us to accept that The Social Web is about much more than “media” or “technology.”  It is  grounded in the emotional, behavioural and philosophical contexts through which we see, experience and co-create it.




Article shared with permissions. To cite, refer to: Page, K. L. (Forthcoming, 2013). Article: Social Web Marketing, in Volume 9, Marketing, Nick Lee and Andrew Farrell (Ed.). In the Wiley Encyclopedia of Management (3e), Cary Cooper (Editor-in-Chief), Wiley.

Social Web Marketing

Kelly Page
Cardiff University, UK


This article provides a of social web marketing and an approach to the use of social technologies such as social media and social applications to build social brand capital.

Keywords: social web, social technologies, social media, social media marketing, social brand capital

The Social Web is a term used to refer to the interplay of social behavior with and through social technology and the philosophy of socialising through social technology with members of a social graph. It is about people and our use social technologies to share opinions, stories and experiences with others irrespective of geography and outside the control of an organisation or individual (Kaplan and Haelein, 2010; Page and Pitt, 2011)). Central to the social web are social technologies, sometimes called social media, a group of Internet-based social technologies that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0[1] that enable the creation and exchange of user-generated or co-created content (Kietzmann et al, 2011). Examples include social networking sites, blogging platforms, or specific platforms for co-creation such as Wiki’s. In addition are social applications, also called apps &/or widgets, are specific pieces of code or script technologies that increase the social functionality of social media platforms like Facebook or a website.

Social web marketing is the use of social media and social applications for developing stakeholder relationships, community engagement, consumer generated marketing and a brands’ social capital (Page and Pitt, 2011). Whereas human capital can be defined as embodied in the skills and knowledge acquired by an individual, social capital is in the relations among individuals, the social structures and networks within which we live (Coleman, 1988). Social brand capital emerges from the relationship and engagement between of curators of a brand within stakeholder communities through conversation and interactivity (Kane, et al., 2009) and consumer generated marketing activities.


Coleman, J. S., (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital, The American Journal of Sociology, 94, 95–120.

Kane, G. C., Fichman, R. G., Gallaugher, J., and Glaser, J. (2009). Community relations 2.0, Harvard Business Review, 87 (11), Nov 1, 132–42.

Kaplan, A.M. and Haelein, M. (2010). Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media, Business Horizons, 53, 59-68.

Kietzmann, J.H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I.P. and Silvestre, B.S. (2011) Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media, Business Horizons, 54, 3, (May-June), 241-251

Page, K. L. (2010). Chapter 17: Digital Marketing, in Baines, P. Fill, C. and Page, K. L. (2010) Marketing, Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Page, K. L. and Pitt, L. (2011). Untangling the Web: Social media, Web 2.0 and the creative consumer, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 10 (6). 313.


[1]Web 2.0 is a term coined in 2004 used to refer to developing web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the web.


add comment
David Harrison (5 years ago)

So … a historical perspective? I know that wasn’t an ageist comment because you paid me a really nice complement as well :-).

I think the historical perspective I might offer is on “appropriateness” and indeed on the meaning of another oft-used word “disruptive”.

What is appropriate changes with increasing familiarity and widespread adoption, indeed where communication is concerned it could be suggested it changes with socialising. So the question here might be asked … “Can appropriateness be fork-lifted in any way, so that adoption is accelerated?”. I really don’t believe it can. I now believe that widespread acceptance can only be achieved when there is a concordance of need and technological solution. An inappropriate technological solution (however seemingly good to the designer) will not achieve acceptance. An appropriate and successful technology will be one that mimics best what users do already. It minimises change and succeeds through reducing the learning curve. Furthermore and to complete the circle, successful adoption can often happen through socialising the proposed change and getting buy-in that way. I hope this makes sense!

It is for this reason I do not like the word “disruptive”, however descriptive it is of the consequence of change. All change could be said to be disruptive, but it’s not the best way of persuading adoption to trumpet the change as being “disruptive”. It challenges the desire for stasis and raises the bar of acceptance.

    Kelly Page (5 years ago)

    Dave … it was in response to our discussion at thought grazing about disruptive technologies – of which the printing press was an example. :-) Agree with you about the role of familiarity and socialisation in the adoption process. In this the social context one is socialised in and the learning that takes place.

    Can this be accelerated? Am so glad you didn’t use the word engineered. I concur with you here as well, and your words are very reflective of Davis (1986) on technology acceptance and Rogers innovation model, where in the perceived value of an innovation or technology is critically importance to its acceptance and wider reach. Ease of use – although important, is secondary under conditions of “usefulness” or intrinsic/extrinsic value.

    How we are socialised to recognised this value – our culture – is critical to this. Sometimes the user doesn’t have a felt need or sees value .. for example the introduction of automatic teller machines (or cashpoints her in the UK), where more a business need than user-driven need (at the time). However today they are crucial touch points for financial service deliver.

    And yes … if position something as “disruptive” as creatures of habit we are, wider adoption will be a much more difficult outcome to achieve. Positioning on “the unrealised value or usefulness” – be this functional, social, financial value … and leading by examples, perhaps I’m in favour of :-))

Anne Marie Cunningham (5 years ago)

I’m really interested in the discussion of ‘disruptive’. I thought that it was only a term that really made sense post hoc as you can see that a new way of doing something had come along and really changed the way that most of use ended up doing it because it was better/cheaper/meeted our needs better. I don’t think that you can use disruptive as a way of selling an idea or technology. It makes no sense in advance as you can’t really predict what will be useful/catch on.

    Kelly Page (5 years ago)

    Anne Marie, concur it is an outcome and recognised in reflection of change; however some organisations do use it in an aspirational sense in their communications around social technological innovation. Wherein they fundamentally believe – from all their research and use of said technology – that it “could” fundamentally change X behaviour with widespread acceptance. Adoption also sometimes comes with a “novelty” factor for lead users and innovators. So this position would appeal to them. Positioning an innovation in this way though, certainly doesn’t mean it “will” be disruptive. It is aspirational communications, and used badly very misleading. Is Facebook a disruptive technology? If we think about it in terms its impact on social communications; social sharing and also some advertising models – most certainly. Did Zuckerberg know it was going to be disruptive, of course not = he hoped! As did his investors … Facebook has social stickiness, it wasn’t its “disruptive potential” that had Harvard University students flocking to the site … it was sheer social mobility, egoism and nosiness (gossip!). :-)

DK (5 years ago)

For me, the simplest definition is “digital dialogue” – stolen from a CEO I was working with who paraphrased a definition we were trying to cobble together… most people can define the ‘digital’ element through the hardware and mechanism, the ‘conversation’ bit though is what most people miss out. It’s at the jazz end of the spectrum in all this discussion… and boy is it the fun end which plays sweeter tunes :-)

    Kelly Page (5 years ago)

    DK. Great perspective. I wonder to what degree we are seeing the mergence of practices and contexts … the social web in this is far more then digital but philosophical in both the structure it represents and the social practices within and through which we traverse, converse and play. Digital dialogue perhaps is but one of the practices in which we engage. Bring on the playground :-))

Leave Comment